How Real Booksellers Are Faring This Holiday Season: Part I

To say the least, 2020 has been a year for the books. The effects of the ongoing pandemic have made what is often the most crucial financial period for bookstores in a good year all the more strange and precarious. This holiday season, we wanted to check in with real booksellers around the world about how they’re doing, how their bookstores have been affected by the complications of this year, and what readers and patrons can do to help.

We asked, and they delivered, so read on to hear what they had to say!


What’s been the biggest challenge associated with the pandemic for you as a bookseller?

 “Convincing people to continue to take advantage of our free delivery and curbside pickup even after we opened our doors to customers. We want to sell them things but it isn’t safe for them all to come in and browse like they used to.”
—Rayna, Garden District Book Shop (New Orleans, LA)

 “Customers disregarding mask protocol.”
—Jae, Bookshop Santa Cruz (Santa Cruz, CA)

“Mitigating social distancing protocols with the financial advantage that in-person shopping allows. This, in combination with having a café where customers remove their masks to eat and drink. The consistency with which customers adhere to and are mindful of keeping their masks on properly (not to mention having proper face protection that isn’t a loosely tied bandana) is extremely variable.”
—Nicholas, The Writer’s Block (Las Vegas, NV)

“Opening a new bookstore in the middle of a pandemic and then living through the most expensive natural disaster in US history a month later.”
—Terri, Swamp Fox Bookstore (Marion, IA)

“Switching from being a community hub where customers browsed, joined us for event and game nights, and would come in large groups of friends to being an order fulfillment center. Our interactions with customers who want our help selecting books is now few and far between. It’s mostly calls or people with specific titles who don’t want to browse for a long time. It’s sad to have to pivot our business model like that, but necessary.”
—Sam, Aaron’s Books (Lititz, PA)


What is your biggest worry as a bookseller?

“The risk associated with being around so many people who may or may not follow mask protocols while in the store.”
—Haley, The Writer’s Block (Las Vegas, NV)

“As always, we worry that the speed, savings, and convenience Amazon can offer are impossible to compete with.”
—Karlene, Shelf Life Books, (Calgary, Alberta, Canada)

“Being able to continue paying the bills if the pandemic isn’t brought under control sooner rather than later. Retail is open here at limited capacity, and with COVID-19 cases up much more here than they’d been last spring, of course, the number of people shopping has decreased at lot.”
—Kelli, Island Books & Crafts (Sault Ste. Marie, MI)

“Getting COVID at work.”
—Mattie, Gramercy Books (Bexley, OH)

“That the store won’t make it.”
—Cindy, The River’s End Bookstore (Oswego, NY)


Have you found anything to be a silver lining?

“Our community has stood behind us since day one. I have never felt so loved.”
—Cindi, Ink Spell Books (Half Moon Bay, CA)

“We have done so many things as a store we might not have done otherwise that have been phenomenal for us and our community of readers. It’s been a rough year, but one of tremendous growth.”
—Anna, Katy Budget Books (Katy, TX)

“It’s been a real joy to see our community step up and keep us afloat. Schools have been hosting online book fairs, and book groups moved to virtual platforms but still got their books from us. It’s really highlighted the importance our community places on having an indie bookstore.”
—Genavieve, Books & Company (Oconomowoc, WI)

“Collaboration with other small business owners through classes and gift sales has been AMAZING!”
—R. Aimee, The Bluestocking Bookshop (Holland, MI)

“I think more people are becoming more aware of the importance of shopping local and supporting small businesses. Also, because of the lockdown, we’ve now found ways for our employees to work from home when need be.”
—Angela, The Haunted Book Shop (Mobile, AL)


What’s something that’s given you hope?

“The huge number of customers who supported us even when we were closed, even when our website was slow, even when our mobile website sucked, even if books costs more from us, etc.”
—Pete, Green Apple Books (San Francisco, CA)

“The indie authors who use my platform to sell their books. They are SO supportive and encouraging. We are creating a wonderful community.”
—Robyn, Eden Books (Newberry, FL)

“Funny messages on orders placed online; the number of customers ordering surprise bundles as gifts once our reputation for highly personal surprises grew.”
—Nialle, The Haunted Bookshop (Iowa City, IA)

“The amount of positive feedback we get whenever we give a store update. And the folks coming in that say ‘Thank you’ for all the safety measures we’re taking.”
Sam, Aaron’s Books (Lititz, PA)

“People are still buying and reading books. That’s what always gives me hope—that people are still out there buying and reading books that matter to them.”
Laura, Red Hen Bookshop (online)


Beyond buying books, how else can people support bookstores?

“Donate, interact on social media, [and] make referrals.”
—Sydne, A Room of One’s Own (Madison, WI)

“You can buy books, gift items, gift cards, memberships. Financial support is great support right now. But you can also share social media posts, create wish lists of books to share for others to buy gifts for you, tell your friends about your local indie. Any way you show your love to local business is valuable support.”
—Anna, Katy Budget Books (Katy, TX)

“Leave reviews of [your] favorite shops on Facebook, Yelp, and Google! It’s free and means so much to us.”
—Terri, Swamp Fox Bookstore (Marion, IA)

“Not referring other potential customers to Amazon, full stop. We receive so many social media mentions that say ‘Buy this book here or at Amazon!’ and they’re simply not equivalent options. The damage that Amazon has done to independent businesses and to customers’ expectations in terms of expedited/cheaper services is immeasurable. If you want to support bookstores, know that there’s likely to be a higher price point, but that the people who work there are going to offer you a perspective and experience you can’t get from an online review. We’re happy to talk with you, [and] happy to point you to other independent businesses that might be able to help you find an item we can’t get.”
—Nicholas, The Writer’s Block (Las Vegas, NV)

“Educate others about the importance of shopping local.”
—Angela, The Haunted Book Shop (Mobile, AL)


Anything else you’d like to share?

“I love the camaraderie bookselling community some days that makes all the crap worth it.”
—Rayna, Garden District Book Shop (New Orleans, LA)

“Never underestimate how much we love giving recommendations, especially on weird themes like ‘stuff about water,’ ‘posthumously published novels,’ ‘strong animal characters,’ etc..”
—Nialle, The Haunted Bookshop (Iowa City IA)

“We are all under a tremendous amount of stress. Be gentle with yourself!”
—Mattie, Gramercy Books (Bexley, OH)

“Every sale, no matter how small, means the world to me now.”
—Cindi, Ink Spell Books (Half Moon Bay, CA)

“Thanks, Libro.fm. You’re a swell partner.”
—Pete, Green Apple Books (San Francisco, CA)


Aw, shucks! Thank you to all the booksellers who weighed in, and to all the indie booksellers and bookstores around the world for all you do for your communities! Stay tuned for part two next week!


Looking for more ways to support bookstores?

Kelsey Norris is a writer, editor, former bookseller, and Libro.fm's Content Marketing Manager. She is currently based in DC. Find more of her work at www.kelseynorris.com.

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